Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Home remodeling made easy

Commentary by David Reinhard


David Reinhard

I 'm going to be v-v-v-v-vulnerable here today.

I have something to confess—something I've been dealing with over the last months, something I think many other American men in their middle years too often confront in silence and shame. I attempted a major home-remodeling project and failed utterly. This is my story.

I've never been a handy guy, as my wife will eagerly attest to. Oh, I wanted to be handy. Some Saturdays I'd listen to the buzz of a band saw and the thwack of hammers in the neighborhood and feel inadequate. Nurture and nature both failed me. I had neither the aptitude nor attitude. I can paint and garden but that's about it. The big, sweaty, countersink-the-thing-a-ma-bob stuff—forget it.

In January, in some kind of twisted midlife moment, I decided it was time to change all that. It was time to saddle up and git-er-done. I was going to remodel our 1950s-era bathrooms. I'd start with a downstairs bathroom that wasn't being used, work on my tiling and plumbing techniques and move onto the larger upstairs bathrooms. Save a little money and prove my manhood. Nice.

Oregonian Homes & Gardens columnist Kym Pokorny and Portland City Councilor Randy Leonard, my No. 10 bus-riding pal, both assured me all this was thoroughly doable. They did it all the time. No problem. Six months later I don't know if I hate them or myself more.

Oh, things started off promisingly enough. It turned out I was very good at browsing through magazines for ideas and picking up product brochures at Home Depot and Lowe's.

It's now painful to recall how much time I spent wandering the aisles of these two stores. I think one of the guys in the Home Depot tile aisle was ready to take out a stalking order on me. "You can do it, we can help" and "Let's build something together" vied to become my domestic anthem this spring.

It's also painful to recall how proud I felt upon removing the toilet and sink. If my wife had gone out and bought me a leather tool belt after I called her down to show off my work, I think I would have worn it. Oddly, she managed to mask her enthusiasm.

The hell began when I started to remove the mosaic tile from the bathroom floor and the mortar along the bottom of the walls. It was a grinding, dirty inch-by-inch affair that took months. I spent weekends bent down or on bended knee, hacking away with hammer and chisel. Late Sunday afternoons I'd emerge from the basement, my hands nicked and swollen from misguided poundings. By the next weekend, what my wife came to call my Shrek hands had healed and I was ready for another round of ground combat.

Finally, I had the floor ready to tile. Or so I thought.

I bought the tile, a neat little tile saw and the mortar. I was ready for the beauty part. (Question: Did I read any directions first? Answer: Does a real man ask for directions?)

Suffice it to say, the floor didn't look beautiful when I finished. After my wife—who's no detail person—said it looked a bit askew, I brought in a friend—who's also no detail person—for a second opinion. He said it looked worse than a bit askew.

Unlike my wife, however, he offered to help me take up the tile and mortar before it all set. Then, we could try again. A real wise guy, he suggested I read a how-to book on tiling first. Wiser still, he drove me to his son's to pick up a how-to book.

We took up the tile. But after reading the book and realizing I hated working in the mortar goop, I decided to get someone else to lay the floor. Then I'd finish the rest of the job myself. A neighborhood handyman recommended that first I take down two shower walls, which led to more hammering and more problems. When I was, once again, finally ready, he told me he couldn't do the job for weeks, but he'd be happy to advise me on the project in the meantime.

Then, in an act of liberation not seen since the happy days of 1776, I decided to pull out of my bathroom project and bring in a contractor to do the whole job. My savior-remodeler Scott Riggs of Riggs & Martin agreed to bail me out. The deal: He would not mock my remodeling skills or ambitions—in fact, he might praise my work to my wife—if I removed the two remaining shower walls and the ceiling. In the trade, we call it "demo." Yeah, demo.

Editor's note: David Reinhard has been on vacation. He wrote this column for the Sunday, July 23, edition of The Oregonian.

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